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    Community based ecological monitoring by fishermen in the King Cove Aleutian region

    Killer whale sighting recorded by fishermen participating in the KIng Cove Citizen Sentinel program during 2015.

    Killer whale sighting recorded by fishermen participating in the KIng Cove Citizen Sentinel program during 2015.

    Community-based ecological monitoring is a valuable and underutilized source of information aiding conservation and management decisions, particularly in remote areas. With effective monitoring tools and training, locals can provide reliable and important environmental information, especially on threatened or endangered species. The Aleutian Region of Alaska, being remote, biologically rich, and inhabited by people that are connected to the environment, is an ideal location for such monitoring. During 2013-15 the Agdaagux Tribal Council (ATC) focused on restarting the BeringWatch Sentinel Monitoring Program in Aleutian communities. As a part of this effort the ATC received a grant from the North Pacific Research Board (NPRB Project # 1317) to focus specifically on developing an effective program for collecting and cataloging at-sea observations by “Citizen Sentinels”, particularly local fishermen in the waters surrounding the Aleutian community of King Cove.

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    Dead juvenile female humpback whale sighted by Darien Uttecht from the F/V Northern Star outside of Dolgoi Island.

     

     

     

     

    Our methodology involved training, specialized logbooks, distributing cameras, social media, as well as creative incentives and externally data verification. A centralized lead Sentinel managed all Citizen Sentinel data collection and archiving and liaised with government managers. A total of 20 different Citizen Sentinels from four different communities, including fishermen on 15 vessels, catalogued 21 different species, including 10 marine mammals. Several of these observations (i.e. whale mortalities) were important contributions to what became an officially designated Unusual Mortality Event (UME) by the National Marine Fisheries Service during the 2015 summer season (Table 1).

     

     

     

    Table 1. Summary data from observations collected by Agdaagux Tribe of King Cove Sentinel Program during 2014 and 2015 (through June 30) as a part of NPRB Project 1317: Community Based Ecological Monitoring by Fishermen in the King Cove Aleutian Region.

    Number of communities from which Citizen Sentinel observations came 4
    Number of community members who made observations 20
    Number of observations made by community members (and entered into database) 37
    Number of fishing vessels from which Citizen Sentinel observations came 15
    Number of observations from fishing vessels 43
    Number of species observed 21
    Number of marine mammal species observed 10
    Number of avian species observed 9
    Number of other species observed 2

    In addition to the Citizen Sentinel observations, an important form of outreach, youth were engaged through the King Cove Culture Camp. Unscheduled encounters with all community members (e.g. at the community store) were prepared for in advance in order to explain activities, collect retrospective environmental observations, and recruit observers.

    Dakota Walker, Sentinel Program coordinator in King Cove teaching Children about local species.

    Dakota Walker, Sentinel Program coordinator in King Cove teaching children about local species.

    Our project has succeeded in one of the most difficult but potentially rewarding aspect of community-based ecological monitoring – reliable data collection/archiving by Citizen Sentinels. We expect to expand on this result in other Bering Sea communities and combine the results with the well-honed Sentinel aspects of the BeringWatch program.

    Community-based ecological monitoring has tremendous potential to fill an information gap in remote, biologically rich, inhabited areas such as the Aleutians. By employing a trained local Sentinel to manage environmental observations by untrained “Citizen Sentinels” (local fishermen) using an internet-based archiving system (BeringWatch), the community of King Cove successfully catalogued reliable and important environmental data.

     

    For more information about this project please contact Dakota Walker at the Agdaagux Tribal Council Sentinel Program:

    907-497-2648 (Voice)
    tribalwildlifekvc@gmail.com